School systems' `comfortable fit'

Administrator: Raymond Brown begins his job as second in command of the county's system.

January 18, 2004|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Raymond Brown, a former Howard County public schools administrator, began his job last week as chief administrative officer for Harford schools, ending the system's seven-year stint with no second in command.

Brown, 55, was chosen for the retooled position because of his background in operations and business services, said Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas.

"He also brings with him many years' experience in working with state legislators in [developing] legislation and communicating with elected officials," she said. "We're thrilled to have him."

Brown's responsibilities are varied and include setting annual operational goals, improving administrative support, unifying staff goals systemwide and refining business and operational processes.

Brown said he comes first to listen and learn about Harford schools and doesn't believe in the "cookie-cutter approach" to administration.

"You have to learn the culture here and understand how it works before working to change it," he said.

The school system is a $300 million business, Brown said, and his job is to be sure it is running as effectively and efficiently as possible, so Haas can concentrate on instructional management.

Contrary to the idea that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," he said, "I think sometimes it's good to break [systems down] and put [them] back together" because opportunities for improvement often emerge.

He said that in addition to savings, he wants to avoid costs, which often gets overlooked.

Brown began his more-than-three-decade career in administration and finance in the Pennsylvania community college system.

He also worked at the University of Maryland in the 1980s before joining the Maryland State Department of Education as assistant superintendent of business services.

He worked closely with the General Assembly in that role, often testifying on state education finance issues, he said.

In 1997, he joined the Montgomery County school system as comptroller and stayed there for three years before moving to Howard County, where his role as director of operations included overseeing transportation, food services, risk management and labor negotiations. He also served as the system's legislative liaison.

"That gives me a really good background in the K-to-12 business-services arena, which makes this position attractive," Brown said.

He lives in Howard County, where his wife teaches. He has two grown daughters who live in the area.

Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for Howard schools, said Brown "is a great guy to work with."

"His experience in the areas of business and finance were just invaluable," she said, adding that he has "a personal style and sense of humor that make him extremely credible and very approachable. We're going to miss him."

Even at a time when the schools are pressed to hire enough teachers to keep class sizes around 30, the hiring of a $101,654 administrator was described as a necessary move last week.

Deb Merlock, a vice president with the Harford County Council of PTAs, said the parent-teacher groups view the hire as a step forward for children and education.

"I don't think we can expect the superintendent to do everything for the school system and do it well," Merlock said.

"There needs to be support there. ... We view this as a positive, but we yet don't know what his role is. We'd like to meet with him."

Schools spokesman Donald R. Morrison said that a deputy superintendent had been part of the school system's executive staff, but that the position had gone unfilled for several years as trends in top management changed and the board reconsidered how to structure the position.

The deputy had handled instructional matters, while the superintendent focused on management and administration, Haas said.

But with superintendents refocusing on guiding the instructional program in recent years, she said, she and the board sought a new title and redefinition of the No. 2 job to match the day-to-day focus.

She likened the chief administrative officer's job to the county executive's direction of administration position.

The county school system, she said, is an "enormous business," with numerous physical plants, operations concerns and administrative priorities.

School board members, she said, got to know Brown through presentations he made at the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. "It was a comfortable fit," she said. "They already knew the quality of his work."

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